Mississippi governor bans most gatherings of 10 or more


Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press



JACKSON -- Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday issued an executive order that further restricts people's physical interactions to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but he is not mandating that people stay at home.


He did not specify whether any steps will be taken to enforce the things he is ordering, including a ban on "nonessential" gatherings of 10 or more people until April 17. Health care facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies and airports are allowed to have more people, but Reeves suggests social distancing.


"Understand that we are not at the end of this pandemic. In fact, we may still be at the beginning stages of this fight," Reeves said during a news conference Tuesday outside the Governor's Mansion.



He ordered Mississippi restaurants and bars statewide to close their dining rooms and offer only carry-out or delivery meals. Some cities and counties have already taken this step.


Reeves said during the news conference that he wants businesses to allow "every possible employee" to work from home. His order lists several types of businesses that should remain open because they are considered essential; that includes farming and construction operations. It also lists essential government services, including courts and child protective services.


Governors in several other states, including Louisiana, are putting tighter limits on people's movements, including stay-at-home orders.


Reeves, a Republican, said he is encouraging -- but still not mandating -- that people remain home. He said the ban on gatherings includes funerals, weddings and church services.


His order tells people to stop visiting hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities that house those most vulnerable to becoming sick. An exception is for visiting people receiving "imminent end-of-life care."


The state Health Department said Tuesday that Mississippi had at least 320 coronavirus cases and one death as of Monday evening. A Hancock County resident with underlying health conditions died last week in a Louisiana hospital.


The vast majority of people infected with the novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization. Particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.


Reeves said in response to questions Tuesday that the only abortion clinic in Mississippi should follow the state Health Department's guideline to temporarily stop elective surgeries.


"It is without question that the lone clinic in Jackson does, in fact, operate doing procedures that are elective and not required," Reeves said. He said if the clinic does not stop, "I would be prepared to try to take additional action," Reeves said, although he did not specify what that would be.


The Health Department said Thursday that medical facilities must postpone elective procedures to conserve protective medical gear that's in short supply. During the news conference Tuesday, the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said he would review what the abortion clinic is doing before he makes any comments.


The clinic's owner, Diane Derzis, told The Associated Press on Monday that she considers abortion an essential health care service, not an elective one.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order during the weekend that prohibits "any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother." In Ohio, abortion clinics received letters Friday from the Republican state attorney general ordering them to cease all "non-essential" surgical abortions.


Reeves said Tuesday that Mississippi's income tax filing deadline has been moved from April 15 to May 15.


The governor said he knows of no confirmed coronavirus cases in Mississippi prisons or county jails, but he also said he did not know whether anyone in those facilities has been tested. The state prison system stopped allowing visitors several days ago, and Reeves said workers are increasing sanitation efforts.


Mississippi public schools are closed until at least April 17, but some public and private schools have started online classes. He said that as of Tuesday, more than 360 sites were providing lunches for students, either for pickup or delivery.


The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has started providing public notices about the coronavirus in Spanish as well as English.





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